Legionaries Of Christ Officially Apologize To Victims: Catholic Order Denounces Founder Father Marcial Maciel
ROME — A Roman Catholic order whose late founder lived a double life as a pedophile and womanizer officially denounced him on Thursday and apologized to his “many victims.”
The Legionaries of Christ, which former members said was run like a secretive cult, accused the founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, who died in 2008, of “reprehensible and objectively immoral behavior” as head of the order from its founding in 1941 until Pope Benedict XVI removed him in 2006.
Once a favorite of the Vatican because it drew many young Catholics to religious vocations and made sizable financial donations to the church, the order has been in Vatican receivership since 2010 and came close to being disbanded.
The apology, issued by delegates from around the world meeting in Rome to set a new direction for the order, came a day after a United Nations committee singled it out in a scathing report accusing the church of ignoring child abuse by priests.
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Kirsten Sandberg, the chairwoman of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, in Geneva on Wednesday.U.N. Panel Criticizes the Vatican Over Sexual AbuseFEB. 5, 2014
The statement denounced “the magnitude of the evil and scandal caused” by Father Maciel and said the organization was now ready to turn a page. “We want to express our deep sorrow for the abuse of minor seminarians, the immoral acts with men and women who were adults, the arbitrary use of his authority and of material goods,” the statement said.
For decades, the Vatican dismissed accusations by seminarians that Father Maciel had abused them sexually, some when they were as young as 12. The order’s rules forbade criticizing the founder or questioning his motives. Pope John Paul II strongly backed Father Maciel, even as criticism of him mounted.
The order was long admired by the church for its dynamic growth and fund-raising prowess, and it had many wealthy conservative benefactors who saw it as a bulwark against liberalism in the church.
In 2006, a year after John Paul’s death, a Vatican investigation concluded that the previously denied accusations of molestation were true. Benedict ordered Father Maciel to retire to a life of “prayer and penitence.”
After his death, Vatican investigations found that Father Maciel had also fathered several children with at least two women, visited them regularly and sent them money.
The order’s newly elected general director, the Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, has a long history with the group himself. According to its website, he helped establish the Legion in Brazil, and in 2011 he was named to a commission created to work with the victims of Father Maciel.
The Rev. John Stegnicki, a former Legion priest now working in the archdiocese of Brasília, was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that the outcome of the election was “disappointing” but predictable, given that the priests voting were by and large Maciel confidants or their protégés.
“Who else could they choose from?” he said. “All of them are entrenched in Legion-think.”
A version of this article appears in print on February 7, 2014, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Catholic Order Denounces Its Founder. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe